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Текст книги "Consequences"

Автор книги: Aleatha Romig

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Текущая страница: 18 (всего у книги 36 страниц)

The Oscar de la Renta and Monique Lhuiller gowns were created in an attempt to recreate a world of dreams and pure fantasy. These wedding dresses had flattering strapless necklines, meticulously enhancing the waist, and skirts with spectacular volume. They included stunning A-line and mermaid styles, lined with thousands of feathers, cascading ruffles, and magical applications. Claire thought they would make Cinderella or Belle proud.

The sisters watched models for two hours and Claire created a short list of over ten dresses. She felt overwhelmed. Ms. Springhill suggested that Ms. Nichols and Mrs. Vandersol enjoy a light lunch while they saw the ten dresses again.

While dining on chicken salad on a bed of lettuce with a side of fruit and iced tea, Claire narrowed the race to four. They varied significantly. The first gown had a beautiful A-line neck with a mermaid bodice and a large skirt covered in fine feathers. The skirt could be bustled or left down for a chapel-length train. The next gown, by Oscar de la Renta, was crafted from the highest quality chiffon and a flowing full satin skirt with a mermaid bodice that was accented with intricate hand embellishments and glistening Swarovski crystals. The third was strapless with an empire waist, the underlay made with morbid tulle and a sheer overlay embossed with floral appliqués of lace and gem stones. And the fourth, by Vera Wang, was very creative, classical smooth lightweight silk chiffon designed to hug the bodice, with a full, flowing chiffon skirt. What made this gown different was the embroidered lace off-the-shoulder overlay that created lace sleeves and a chapel-length train. The decision made, Claire would try on the four dresses.

First they needed to see the matron-of-honor dresses. Emily was slightly taller than and not as lean as Claire. The dresses they viewed were mostly black or silver, but Ms. Springhill promised any color that Claire desired. Claire smiled. “That is wonderful we will be able to get pink!” Ms. Springhill didn’t know she was teasing. The ladies snickered.

They narrowed it to a satin Oscar de la Renta gown with a tighter skirt, a Valentino gown with a lace overlay, and a Monique Lhuiller gown that would be perfect with Claire’s second choice. They realized Claire must choose her wedding gown first and then the matron-of-honor’s dress would be chosen to complement.

At two thirty they began trying on gowns. When Claire looked at her watch she had a sickening feeling that the process was taking too long. She worried that Tony would wonder where they were. Or perhaps he might think they went somewhere else? She would let him know how time-consuming the process was as soon as she got the chance.

Hoping to avoid suspicion, Claire decided to check in with Eric. She wanted him to know it would be a while before they needed to be picked up. She used the shop’s telephone to call. Emily offered her phone since Claire left hers at the apartment. Claire decided the shop’s phone would be better. The boutique’s number would appear on Eric’s caller ID. She worried that if she called Eric on Emily’s phone her location maybe questioned. And if she used Emily’s phone, Tony might assume she used it for other calls. It bothered her that every move needed to be scrutinized for possible misinterpretations. She told herself that perhaps they didn’t, but better safe than sorry. “Hello, Eric, this is Claire.”

“Yes, Ms. Claire, are you ready to be picked up?”

“No, that is why I’m calling. This has been a very difficult process. I assume we will be here another hour or perhaps two. I will call you when we’re done.”

“Yes, Ms. Claire, I will be there when you are ready.”

Emily could hear her every word. She wanted to ask Eric to call Tony, to let him know they were still at the boutique. However, she thought it would cause Emily to ask more questions, so she just said, “Thank you, Eric.”

Claire found herself in an uncomfortable situation regarding the measuring for her gown. She had so many things to think about this slipped her mind. Claire asked Ms. Springhill what undergarments were usually worn with these dresses and told her she would like to purchase some now so the dress would fit as close as possible to how it would on her wedding day. Apparently, this wasn’t an unusual request. Ms. Springhill brought her a strapless body-shaper. Once that was on, Claire allowed the attendants to take her measurements. The entire conversation went unnoticed by Emily. She was occupied with attendants measuring and catering to her every need.

Claire tried on each gown and entered a large mirrored room, where she stood on a platform. She could see herself from all directions. More than anything Claire wanted Tony’s opinion. He once said that Catherine knew what he liked. Claire wished Catherine was there now, but she wasn’t. Instead, she had Emily, who repeatedly told her how beautiful she looked in each dress. It wasn’t helping.

Claire told herself repeatedly: My wedding will happen in three weeks. I need to make a decision. The service and choices were fantastic. Spending time with her sister was wonderful. The stress was causing her head to pound. Claire narrowed the list to two: the chiffon Oscar de la Renta gown and the Vera Wang gown. Perhaps it was the issue of a December wedding in the Midwest, but the idea of the lace sleeves on the Vera Wang gown appealed to Claire.

Ms. Springfield knew Claire’s measurements and promised that she could produce either gown. Ever so politely, she emphasized the importance of a quick decision. Claire would need to return for additional fittings. She said that would be fine, but secretly wondered if Tony anticipated that.

Next they needed to choose a dress for Emily. Claire decided she really liked the Valentino dress with the lace overlay. It would complement either bridal gown. She took color swatches and promised Ms. Springhill the color decision by Monday. There was a sudden realization that color had multiple implications. The decorations, the flowers, and the invitations usually all contained the same color scheme. Up until now, she hadn’t thought about this. Claire could feel the impending tears. There were so many things to think about.

At almost four, Eric arrived to retrieve them from the boutique. Claire was exhausted and overwhelmed. She hadn’t spent that much time out and away from home since her accident. Her head pounded violently to the point of nausea and she wanted a nap. True to her new persona, Claire didn’t show Emily or anyone the way she felt.

Emily tried to pretend she didn’t notice as Claire tipped the staff at the boutique. After models and tailor’s assistants, and of course Ms. Springfield, the total was over $1,000. This didn’t include the cost of a dress.

Once in the car Emily genuinely expressed her elation at their shopping experience. She had never been treated that way before. It was amazing. Those people couldn’t do enough for them. She looked at Claire, “Can you imagine if some of those girls from high school could see you now?” Claire smiled. She had thought about that at one time, but it didn’t seem important anymore.

“It really isn’t that big of deal.”

“Oh my god, Claire, you just tipped half my house payment!”

“Really, Emily, please, it isn’t that important.” Emily’s reaction made her uncomfortable.

“You know, Claire, the only people who say money isn’t important are people who have it.” Then she asked Claire about her dress. “I want to wear the dress you like. But I will be honest, with flying to Iowa, staying there for I don’t know how long, and other expenses I don’t know if we can afford a dress from there. I noticed that there were no price tags. That isn’t a good sign.”

The pounding in her head distracted Claire’s attention. She looked in the car’s refrigerator for something to drink and eat. “Emily, I don’t want you to worry about it. Tony will pay for the dresses. I can talk to him about flying you to Iowa and a place to stay too.”

She didn’t mean to, but she’d offended Emily. “Thank you, Claire, but my husband and I can afford to pay for ourselves.”

“Oh please, Emily, I’m not trying to upset you. I know you can. But we are springing this on you without warning. You can do whatever you want regarding the flight and stay, but please let Tony take care of the dress. He said he wants me to have my dream wedding, so please let him take care of the dress.” Then she added with a feigned smile, “And as I remember, you and John paid for my beautiful green dress some years ago.”

Emily smiled. “You are right, we did. Of course, it was about $150. You tipped ten times that today. I am just not used to this new Claire. Give me some time.”

Claire handed Emily a bottle of water and offered her some blueberries as she silently prayed, “Please, let some food and water help my head.” The water tasted cool and refreshing. Then she thought about coffee, the amazing fragrance, knowing it would make her feel better. She decided she would ask Jan for some coffee when she got back to the apartment.

The traffic flowed much better than it had early in the morning. Before they reached the Hyatt, Emily’s phone rang. John wondered when she would be back. She told him they were close and that it’d been a long day. John reminded her that they were supposed to have dinner with Claire and Anthony, did she know any details? Emily said she didn’t but Claire promised to call them as soon as she got back to the apartment.

Emily gave Claire her cell number as she was got out of the limousine. She told Claire that it had been a great day and looked forward to their dinner tonight. They hugged and Emily went into the hotel. As Eric pulled away Claire laid her head back on the seat. Tears leaked from her eyes as they closed. Her head throbbed and she felt utterly spent. Somewhere between the Hyatt and Tony’s apartment building Claire fell into a sound sleep.

“Ms. Claire, we have reached Mr. Rawlings’s apartment.” She heard Eric’s voice. Claire opened her eyes and was immediately disoriented. She tried to familiarize herself with her surroundings, soon realizing she was in the limousine outside Tony’s apartment building. Eric held the door open and the cool November air helped Claire focus. She entered the building and went up to the seventy-sixth floor. As the elevator opened Claire’s face felt suddenly flushed and her heart rate increased. Tony stood at the door awaiting her arrival.

  I think I’ve discovered the secret of life—

youjusthangarounduntilyougetusedtoit. —Charles M. Shulz

 Chapter 27

Seeing your fiancé across the room should make your heart race. Seeing her fiancé standing in the doorway did that to Claire. Instead of accelerated by love though, she presumed it was anxiety. When she entered the building, her watch read 5:30. Her thoughts churned slowly through her aching head. Obviously, he had finished his work. She wanted to get home first . . . but she had Eric. How did he get home?

“Good evening, Claire.” His expression indifferent, she couldn’t read him.

Mask in place. The nap helped the headache, no longer pounding only gently aching. “Good evening, Tony.” She reached up to kiss him. He bent down to accommodate.

“You look beat. Did you find a gown?” He led her into the apartment. Claire exhaled and tried to explain the complexity of the day. The boutique was wonderful, too wonderful, with a selection that was too large. He helped her with her coat, gave it to Jan, and escorted her up the stairs to the bedroom. Halfway up the stairs, she remembered coffee.

“Oh, just a minute, Tony. Jan?” Claire stopped and went back down the stairs and called, “Jan?” The housekeeper returned to the foyer.

“Yes, Ms. Claire?”

“I need something from my coat pocket please.” Still holding her coat, Jan handed it back. Claire removed a small piece of paper from one of the pockets. “Thank you, could you please bring coffee upstairs?” Jan replied affirmatively and disappeared with Claire’s coat.

Claire proceeded up the stairs to Tony. He waited patiently, silently watching her. She handed him the piece of paper. He took it, unfolded it, and asked, “What is this?”

“It is Emily’s cell number. She gave it to me so I could call her with details of tonight’s plans.” Tony’s expression didn’t change. He wadded the paper, put it in the pocket of his slacks, and continued to escort Claire up the stairs. She wasn’t sure what his actions meant. However, his lack of response probably meant the end of that conversation. “I am sorry I’m so late. I had no idea this would be such a long day.”

Tony said that it was all worth it if she found her wedding gown. She told him she had it narrowed to two. The boutique had her measurements, and all that was needed was a call to let them know her decision. However, Ms. Springhill emphasized she must do it soon. Claire told Tony she would appreciate his opinion. He said he trusted Claire’s judgment.

She sat on the edge of the bed, exhaled, and lay back. The coolness of the room combined with the firmness of the bed helped Claire try to relax. She closed her eyes and hoped the coffee would help her head.

“Eric told me you fell asleep after Emily left the car.” He sat next to her on the bed, stroking her hair. Claire breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t seem upset. The tension in her head began to subside.

“I am sorry if that was bad, but my head hurt so badly I could hardly focus on Emily.”

“Of course, it is fine. You were alone and exhausted. I told you I don’t want you overdoing. You are not 100 percent yet.” He kissed her head. “I spoke to your brother-in-law and moved our reservations back to eight o’clock. Maybe you should continue your nap for a little while. We don’t need to leave until seven thirty.”

Claire thought about it. She had about two hours, but decided a shower would be more beneficial. She already took a nap. They talked as Jan knocked on their door. She entered the room and put a coffee carafe, cream, and two mugs on a table near the windows. She inquired if they needed anything else. Learning they didn’t, she left.

The open drapes exposed a spectacular view filled with darkness even though it wasn’t even six in the evening. The New York city lights glittered below, evidence of inhabitants racing from place to place. Claire held her mug of coffee, inhaled the rich aroma, and fell silent, mesmerized by the sight. This time of year, with shorter dreary days, had always been a difficult time for her. She loved sunshine, it made her joyful. This year she had missed most of the autumn sun and now the bleakness of winter was rapidly descending.

To her, dark was contrary to light. Therefore, instead of joy it brought sorrow. That is why she liked Atlanta. She stood at the window, looked at a magnificent skyline, sipped her warm mug of coffee, and thought about being sad. This made her chastise herself. She should be happy about her wedding and her reunion with Emily. But what she really wanted was to be back in Iowa. She didn’t want the pressure of choosing a dress and dealing with Emily’s constant questions. She didn’t long for the warmth of Atlanta anymore, but for the warmth of her fireplace and lack of pretense.

She saw Tony approaching in the reflection of the window. He stood close behind her, put his arms around her waist, and she rested her head against his chest. Tony’s voice sounded soft and affectionate, “What are you thinking about? You seem far away.”

“I don’t want to say. You will think I’m ungrateful.” She put her mug down on the table and turned to face him.

Tony lifted her eyes to his. “I appreciate honesty above all.” He wasn’t being authoritative, only candid. He noticed how tired her eyes looked as he lightly kissed her lips. “And let me decide what I think.”

She continued to look in his eyes. The brown matched the color of her coffee lightened by cream. It gave her strength to be honest. “I want to go home.” His expression changed slightly, telling her that he didn’t understand her meaning of home. “Tony, I want to go back to your home, I want to be back in Iowa.” He smiled and hugged her.

“Why would that make you ungrateful?” She explained that she loved his surprise, seeing Emily and John thrilled her, but things have changed. Emily asked so many questions and seemed so dismayed by Claire’s life, it felt as though they weren’t connected anymore. Tony had released her chin and her face rested, buried in his chest. The thumping of his heart filled her with security. She closed her eyes and listened. The steady beat made her head feel better. She couldn’t see his face or smile of satisfaction.

She continued, saying that if she could she would cancel their dinner plans for tonight. Lifting her eyes again, he said, “You know that isn’t an option. We’ve made a commitment and we will honor it. But I am happy to know you want to be home with me, to our home. We will be there tomorrow.” Claire nodded her head and said that yes, she knew. She picked up her mug of coffee and went to the bathroom for a shower.

Once there she noticed the large garden tub. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t seen it before, it had been there all along, but it looked very inviting. Starting the warm water she decided to find out where they are going. When she opened the door to ask Tony, he was sitting on the bed with his back to her. He had her purse open, the contents strewn on the bed, searching for something. Perhaps something Claire had left in there that she shouldn’t have had. Maybe evidence of her being somewhere with Emily instead of the bridal boutique, but there was nothing. She considered saying something, confronting him about privacy, instead she quietly closed the door and thanked God she’d given him the paper with the telephone number.

Eric pulled up to the restaurant on the Upper East Side at approximately seven forty-five. Claire was very pleased with Tony’s plans for the evening. First, the quaint, casual seafood restaurant was away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and not as elegant as their normal dining establishments. Their reservation had been moved to eight, and although the Hyatt wasn’t far, Emily and John weren’t there yet. Second, she approved of Tony’s choice of attire, they both wore jeans. When they left the bedroom, Claire told Tony again how much she liked him in jeans. He reminded her how much he liked her out of them. Their eyes sparkled.

Since their table wasn’t ready, Tony and Claire went to the bar to wait. At the end of the bar stood one unoccupied stool, Tony directed Claire to it. She sat while he stood beside her. He ordered himself a designer beer and Claire a glass of Zinfandel. Sitting at the bar reminded Claire of the Red Wing. Compartmentalize. She felt much better than she had earlier. Perhaps it was the nap, the bath, the coffee, Tony’s understanding about her long day, or just some time to relax away from questions. Whatever the cause, her spirit felt revived and ready for the evening. They chatted about the different bottles of liquor lining the bar. Claire recalled some of her bartending knowledge. She talked about most of the liquors from a first-person point of view, ones she liked, ones she didn’t, and why. It amused Tony that she’d tried so many of them. After all, she’d only been legally drinking for six years. Claire smiled and repeated the word legally. They were chatting and laughing when John and Emily approached.

Proceeding with the customary round of hellos and handshakes, Emily and John ordered drinks, stood conversing about nothing in particular, and soon their table was ready. John, Emily, and Claire went to the table while Tony stayed back to pay the bar tab.

Once the hostess took them to their table, Claire excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. As she exited the bathroom, which was located down a narrow hall, she was surprised to find John waiting for her. “Well, hi. Did you think I was lost?” Claire started to pass him, thinking they were going back to the table, when John stopped her.

“Claire, I really need to talk to you without Anthony present.”

Claire suddenly felt uncomfortable. “No, John, you don’t.”

He spoke soft and fast. “Yes, I do. Tell me you haven’t signed a prenuptial agreement yet.”

“I haven’t.”

“Good, I want to review it first. Emily said you don’t think it is necessary, and I should drop it, but I’m your brother. I have known you since you were a little girl. Let someone who has your best interests at heart make sure you are represented.”

“Thank you, John, I believe Tony has my best interests at heart. I don’t care about his money, I trust him, and I . . .” Claire could see the change in John’s expression. Oh god! She knew by the tightness in her stomach that Tony was behind her. She turned and looked directly at his chest. He was right behind her.

Continuing Claire’s sentence, Tony said, “And I believe this conversation would be better held in a private setting.” Tony’s voice exuded displeasure. They, however, stood in the hallway of a public restaurant; therefore, it was not loud, rude, or aggressive. Claire looked up to see his face, wondering how much he had heard. She could see the brown disappearing behind expanding blackness.

“Tony . . .” Claire started to speak. His expression stopped her cold.

“Shall we all go to our table? I believe our waitress would like to introduce herself. John, you and Emily are welcome to join us in our car. We will be glad to drive you back to your hotel following dinner. At that time, if you choose, you may continue your legal counsel.” Claire prayed he would not choose to continue. She knew from experience there are some things not worth pursuing.

John looked from Tony to Claire and back to Tony. He sounded strong and defiant. “That would be fine, Anthony. I appreciate the offer. We would be glad to join you.” He then lightened his tone. “Emily tells me you have a very nice car.” They all began to walk toward the table.

“Thank you, it isn’t mine. I lease cars in the city. Too many accidents with all the traffic . . .” And the conversation continued benignly to the table and throughout dinner.

She knew Tony and knew he was angry. To the casual onlooker, he appeared fine. He excelled at the art of maintaining appearances. He chatted, listened, laughed, and watched. Every now and then, his and Claire’s eyes would connect. She wanted to tell him she was sorry. She hadn’t asked for the counsel, but of course, she maintained her mask and didn’t approach the subject. Emily didn’t know about the hallway conversation. She innocently conversed.

By the end of dinner Emily and Claire decided that Claire would wear the Vera Wang dress. She liked the lace sleeves, it would be best for a winter wedding. They also decided on the dress for Emily. Tony had printed off all the contact information for the boutique. Claire gave it to Emily and told her she was sorry but she would need to return to the city one or two more times for fittings. Emily said it was all right.

John asked them what time their flight back to Iowa was in the morning. Claire looked at Tony. She didn’t want to say, “Oh, we can go anytime. It’s Tony’s jet.” He answered, “We plan to leave early. This wedding is coming together very fast. Our wedding planner will be at the house tomorrow at two. Luckily, we gain an hour on our way back.” Claire sighed, he was good. She also decided he either had genuinely begun to relax or he could fool her too. Regardless, he appeared very accommodating. After their appetizers, salads, and main entrée, they all had coffee. Surprisingly, after the uncomfortable hallway confrontation, the dinner went well.

Earlier, back at the apartment, Claire shared Emily’s comments regarding the cost of the wedding with Tony. He hadn’t said much other than to acknowledge her concerns, but apparently developed a plan. “John and Emily, I want to thank you for joining us this Thanksgiving. It means so much to Claire. She told me about the loss of your family, the two of you are important to her.” Claire listened intently, as did the two of them. “I can be impulsive. I must admit after so many years of bachelorhood I am delighted to have met the one woman I want to spend my life beside.” He looked at Claire and smiled. She smiled in return. “That is why Claire agreed to such a fast wedding. That can be difficult on those people we hold dear. You may have had plans for that weekend, and I doubt you were planning a trip to Iowa.” He had everyone’s attention. “Therefore, I would be honored if you would allow me to take care of your travel plans to and from Iowa. I am speaking for Claire, but I believe she would like you to be there a few days before the ceremony. Our home is not near hotels. Please know you are invited to stay with us. We have room.” He sounded gallant and magnanimous. Claire reached his hand under the table and squeezed. He squeezed back and held her hand. She didn’t know how John would respond, but she was exceedingly pleased with her fiancé. “And while I have your attention, I want to give Claire her dream wedding. Please allow me to take care of any wedding apparel and accessories.”

At first, Emily and John said nothing. Claire knew it was killing John. He was a successful attorney, but they had education loans they were still paying. They had a mortgage, car loans, probably credit cards. Tony had more money than he could spend in a lifetime. She prayed they would accept.

Finally, John spoke. “Anthony, thank you very much. It is difficult for me to accept your generosity.”

Tony had one more ploy, “John, haven’t I heard stories about Claire living with the two of you for a year after college?” John said yes, she did live with them. “Perhaps you could justify this as an overdue rent payment?” Tony was smiling. Claire wanted to cry. Instead, she beamed at John and Emily. They had to see how wonderful Tony could be.

John and Emily exchanged glances. Finally, it was Emily that accepted, “Thank you. You have our numbers. Please let us know the details.” The conversation was done.

They all stood to leave and Claire thought about the bill. Apparently, it was taken care of without anyone realizing, one less confrontation. Tony had contacted Eric and he had the car waiting outside. Claire hoped that the polite attitude of the dinner would continue into the car. The women got in first, followed by John, who sat by Emily, and Tony, who sat by Claire.

As soon as Eric pulled away from the curb John began speaking. His voice strong and direct as if he were addressing a jury or judge, “Anthony, I apologize for ambushing Claire in the hallway. And, Claire, I apologize to you for making you uncomfortable.” Emily looked at John with horror in her eyes, completely unaware. Claire exhaled and sat back, thinking only, oh god, he is going to pursue this. She deferred to Tony. “But I have known Claire since she was a small girl. I have done my best to look out for Emily and for Claire, especially since the death of their parents. I love her like a sister.” He smiled at Claire, then back to Tony with all seriousness. “I am an attorney, and I believe that Claire deserves rightful representation regarding the legal ramifications of your marriage.”

Claire didn’t speak, Tony did, “John, I definitely appreciate the fact that Claire has someone else that cares about her well-being. I must emphasize the fact that she will be my wife and I will look out for her. I can assure you that we have an entire team of attorneys that will represent her in any necessary legal circumstance.”

John continued undeterred. “With all due respect, your legal team will look out for your best interests, as they should. Claire is obviously in love with you and trusts your decisions.”

“Are you implying that you do not trust my decisions?”

“No, I am not implying. I am saying that as Claire’s brother-in-law and attorney I should review the prenuptial agreement prior to her signature.”

Claire didn’t feel good about this discussion. Maybe she could help. “Thank you, John, for your concern. I do trust Tony—” She immediately knew she shouldn’t have spoken. She stopped.

Tony continued, “Your concern is admirable. And your persistence is commendable. As Claire’s attorney, not her brother-in-law, I will inform you that we do not plan on having a prenuptial agreement. I want Claire to have half of everything. I do not plan on divorcing her, leaving her, or her leaving me. I believe she should be my partner in every way with everything. She will have half of everything I possess as of December 18.”

John sat in silence and stared at Tony. He hadn’t expected that information. Finally, he spoke. “Have you consulted your team of legal counsel?”

“Excuse me? Are you asking as Claire’s attorney?”

“No, I am asking as your future brother-in-law. I know Claire. I know she is a wonderful woman who is in love. But as an attorney, a man of your wealth should not enter a business deal without a contract, and you should not enter into a marriage without a prenuptial agreement.”

Tony smiled, amused. Amusement did not imply a good thing. Claire prayed it was all a figment of her imagination, perhaps she was sleeping again and this was a nightmare. Emily sat in awe, dumbfounded by the verbal debate that transpired before her. Tony decided the conversation was over. “John, thank you for your advice. Thank you for your legal consultation. Your care and concern for Claire is duly noted and welcomed. I look forward to more lively debates with you in the future. May I make one suggestion?” John said yes. However, his answer was inconsequential. The statement formed as a question was purely rhetorical. Tony would offer his suggestion either way. “These conversations should and will take place in private.” John agreed.

They sat in silence for a while. Finally, Emily broke the uneasy stillness and told Claire she would miss her and couldn’t wait until they were together again for the wedding. Then she turned to Tony. “If we are still welcome?”

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